Coffee with a Cop: Seeking common grounds in Waltham

By Weihua Li, Wicked Local Waltham
Original article HERE

The police cruiser had been parked in front of Dunkin Donuts on Lexington Street with the car doors open and headlights on for some time.

“What is going on?” asked a Waltham woman who stopped by for a cup of coffee, wondering if there had been a crime.

Who could blame her for her curiosity? There were, after all, several officers talking to people near the cruiser, with more inside.

But the officers weren’t there to investigate wrongdoing. Instead, the Waltham Police Department was hosting its first Coffee with a Cop event, Wednesday, Oct. 4, during which officers welcomed the public to come by and talk about what has been on their minds — over free coffee and donuts, of course.

Festive atmosphere

The event, which coincides with National Coffee with a Cop Day, evolved from the department’s Cops & Cones events last summer, when local families brought their children to meet the men and women who protect the community, Patrolman Bob Williams said.

For the first 30 minutes, Williams said he talked to two dozen people. Some of them came particularly for the Coffee with a Cop Day, others stumbled upon the event and decided to stay and chat.

“Most of the time people don’t get to see police as ‘real people,’ they see officers just as men and women in uniform,” Williams said. “This event aims to bridge a gap, and to build the neglected connection.”

During the three-hour program, four Waltham police officers stayed in the coffee shop to answer any questions, address concerns, or just to chat.

Occasionally, officers would show people the inside of a police vehicle, demonstrating the functions of each piece of equipment.

Red, white and blue balloons announced the event and added a festive atmosphere, and officers also gave out stickers of Waltham Police Department’s logo, paper police hats, and coloring books to educate children about safety.

“Can I get another sticker?” three-year-old Gianna asked her mother Jessica Nicholson, a Waltham resident.

“The kids love seeing firefighters and police officers,” Nicholson said, holding a cup of coffee in one hand and her toddler in another. Meanwhile, Williams was showing Gianna the department’s electronic patrol bike.

Questions from the community

While Nicholson and her friend, Diana Lehmann, came to meet the officers and express appreciation, some, including Jennifer Fitzsimmons, came with questions in mind.

Fitzsimmons said she always wanted to know is whether it is illegal for part of a car to be parked on the pavement, which sometimes can block an entire narrow sidewalk.

“This doesn’t seem like the right type of question to call the police station about,” Fitzsimmons said. “But I’m very curious, so this may be a good place to ask.”

A couple asked about Officer Dani Henderson the best way to get to Whole Foods Market.

Henderson suggested people interested in learning more about police work participate in the department’s Citizens Police Academy, a 12-week program that shows the behind-the-scene look of Waltham Police Department.

During the free program, which meets every Wednesday, members of the public have the opportunity to go on a ride along with officers and participate in firearms training, Henderson said.

“It’s exciting to meet people who don’t like to come up to police officer to have a conversation,” Henderson said. “So community outreach like this and Cop & Cones really makes a difference.”